The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

A Twentieth Anniversary Not Worth Celebrating

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


In 1996, Bill Clinton resided in the White House; science produced the first cloned mammal, a sheep named Dolly; folks were dancing the Macarena; and the Simpsons became the longest running prime-time animated series. Unfortunately, not all twenty year flashbacks are as much fun because in 1996, cell phones were the size of a brick and performed two functions -- calling people and text messaging; the Internet was merely a blip on the radar; and, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 was enacted.

On February 8, 2016, the Telecommunications Act turns twenty years old. In terms of technology, this twenty year old law simply has not kept pace with today’s changing environment. The Internet received only a glancing mention in the law, yet it is now one of the major drivers of the economy today, allowing individuals to send emails, find information, perform online shopping, file tax returns, and find jobs. The brick size cell phone has given way to Smartphones that connect to the Internet in ways that were unimaginable twenty years ago. By 2017, the mobile app market is expected to generate $77 billion in revenues. Mobile spectrum has become a valuable resource, generating more than $40 billion in the AWS-3 auction conducted a year ago. Consumers are viewing television in entirely new ways, using streaming video over the Internet, and watching the television shows and movies at anytime, anyplace, using an assortment of devices.

Those who wrote the Telecommunications Act of 1996 never envisioned the future of communications that is being experienced today, and the law needs modernization to keep up with the technology of the future. Last Congress, the House Energy and Commerce Committee began reviewing the Telecommunications Act with an eye towards modernizing the law. Congress should move forward with its efforts and ensure that telecommunications policy is forward thinking, technology neutral, and will allow communications to continue to innovate and change. A twenty year old law regulating new technology is nothing to celebrate if it doesn’t keep up with the times.

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